The Mayor addressed the City Council this afternoon and offered his view of the state of the city. Former Mayor Nickels used to pack the Council chambers with city employees, often leading to the opening of the rear doors for the standing-room-only crowd. About a third of the seats were vacant for today's mayoral speech; I suspect the Mayor's staff will check the "fill the room" box next time around.
The Mayor covered a host of issues, including his lists of our civic assets and challenges.
McGinn-cited assets: port city; strong institutions of higher education, both public and private; history of innovation; creative, smart population; great neighborhoods; our arts and music culture; hydro electric utility; and, a passion to meet economic, social and environmental challenges head on.
McGinn-cited challenges: the city budget shortfall, perhaps $5-$10 million in 2010 and upwards of $50 million or more in 2011; city response to young people related to employment, education, violence; failing infrastructure, especially storm water runoff, transportation systems; unemployment; global warming.
Mayor McGinn didn't offer specific policy proposals, although he did reference his proposal for a May ballot measure asking the public to approve higher taxes to pay for bonds to rebuild the central waterfront seawall and his desire to seek the public's approval for expansion of the light rail system within two years. But, for goodness sakes, he's only been in office for six weeks. It's a little early to expect detailed policy proposals.
The Mayor did a good job creating context for future initiatives he might propose. He shared his philosophy of government (active intervention). He continued his informal, conversational style of speaking. And he continued to misrepresent the city's obligations related to removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Mayor McGinn told us today that the risks to the City are great, citing the approximately $930 million in waterfront related costs the City has agreed to cover and his fear about tunnel construction cost overruns.
The problem I have with the Mayor's characterization is that the City is going to pay the $930 million for utility relocation, waterfront improvements, etc., whether the tunnel is constructed or not. Even if the Mayor's surface only option had been chosen, the City would still incur these costs. Somehow suggesting that these costs increase our financial risk or expose us somehow is incorrect. On the cost overruns challenge the Mayor continues to raise I would just remind everyone that this is a state highway, a state designed and managed project, a state selected contractor, and a state paid-for project. The state intends to award a design-build contract requiring the contractor to cover any cost overruns. The City of Seattle is not on the hook for any of the tunnel's direct costs.
Other than this pesky little issue, the Council and Mayor are doin' good. For example, the Mayor and Council are engaged in a special project related to SR-520 design issues and we will soon hire a consultant to help us with technical issues. This work is moving forward and we are more closely aligned on where we want to end up than many people suspect.